December 13, 2013

Faculty Respond to the Challenge: Write about Teaching and Learning for Nine Weeks Straight

By: in Faculty Development

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What does professional development look like? A couple of the more traditional examples might include reading a book, sitting in a room full of educators discussing a particular topic, or traveling to a conference. Certainly, those are all ways we can learn to improve our craft.

Yavapai College, a community college in the high deserts of Arizona, recently completed a nine week professional development “challenge” that was a little different. At its core was reflective writing, done by faculty, and shared with faculty locally and widely on the open web. The writing started conversations in the hallways and faculty offices, and it allowed other educators far and wide to learn a little of what the faculty at Yavapai College do and think.

The 9x9x25 Challenge was first presented to the college faculty as a reflective writing challenge that asked them to write at least 25 sentences about teaching and learning each week for nine consecutive weeks. The only other rule to the challenge was that the writing had to be placed on the open web. You know, out on the Internet for all to see.

Out of 300 possible participants, 17 rose to the challenge presented. It was not part of their yearly development activity or suggested by college deans. It was completely voluntary and there was no stipend involved. They were promised a pint of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream if they completed the first week of writing. That was enough to get all 17 to complete the work. For the remaining weeks the faculty received t-shirts, books about teaching, a signed certificate from the college president, homemade cookies, and other small tokens of appreciation.

During the remaining eight weeks they wrote a total of 152 pieces of writing totally just under 350 printed pages. The writing was gathered on the college’s Teaching & eLearning website and was shared with the local college faculty and with broader audiences using Twitter and the personal networks of some of the instructional designers. The traffic on the Teaching and eLearning website for the nine weeks nearly tripled the normal visits per week.

The initial invitation was in the form of an email to all the college faculty. You can see it here.

After the first few weeks Mark DeLong, an instructional designer at Northwestern Michigan College started a similar challenge with the faculty there. During a couple of the weeks there was interaction between the faculties of the two colleges. For the faculty, having their work read and commented on by colleagues from across the country was really rewarding. During the nine weeks there were numerous faculty from many colleges who shared ideas and comments with the Yavapai faculty.

The faculty wrote primarily from blogging platforms such as WordPress or Blogger. One faculty member wrote on a wiki. We tried not to use the “B” word in telling faculty about the project. The word ‘blog” still carries some anxiety and skepticism among certain people. We figured if we just told them to write we would get more participation. And we did!

By the end of the challenge several of the faculty had their writing highlighted in the Instructional Technology Councils Winter Newsletter.

Next year the college plans on integrating a little more push to get the faculty to submit work to venues like Faculty Focus, the ITC Newsletter, and the League for Innovation in the Community College. We would also like to spend one of the nine weeks exchanging writing with another college, possibly Northwestern Michigan College. Yavapai also hopes to run the nine weeks next year without any college funding for the “weekly rewards.”

You can read the reflections and see just how valuable this experience was to the faculty, and what a rich resource they were able to create in only nine weeks. We hope that this small event might inform our vision of how we expect faculty to grow as teachers and the importance of sharing of their talents both within our college community and the larger community of all educators.

The Yavapai College TeLS Webletter is located at www.telswebletter.com

Todd Conaway is an instructional designer at Yavapai College.

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